How Satanism Works

The Founding of the Church of Satan
Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, is pictured here in costume. Bettmann/Getty Images

Anton LaVey was born Howard Stanton Levey in 1930. There are conflicting accounts of his early years — LaVey's authorized biographies paint a wildly colorful life in which he worked at a circus, as a police photographer and as an organist at a burlesque show. LaVey's detractors suggest none of these things is true, and that he lived a fairly normal post-war suburban life near San Francisco.

What is not disputed is the fact that LaVey had a growing interest in the occult, both ritual and fictional. He was a fan of pulp horror and adventure stories and read the pulp magazine Weird Tales. He was also interested in the beliefs of Western esoteric groups, including modern ones like occultist Aleister Crowley's Thelema. In the 1960s, LaVey began hosting lectures on the paranormal and occult beliefs. This philosophical zeal and keen eye for publicity led him to create the Church of Satan in 1966 and reinvigorate interest in Satanism in the United States.

"The Satanic Bible," the Church of Satan's central text written by LaVey and published in 1969, is split into four books: The Book of Satan, The Book of Lucifer, The Book of Belial and The Book of Leviathan. It addresses the church's philosophies on love, religion, magic and destruction, among other topics, and has been widely influential in spreading the contemporary Satanist credo.

When LaVey set out to relay his belief system in "The Satanic Bible," he drew heavily from the Enlightenment idea of a symbolic Satan who stands in opposition to established authorities and values. He also took inspiration from the Objectivist ideas of writer and philosopher Ayn Rand and from the occult stories of his favorite pulp writers, like H.P. Lovecraft and E. Robert Howard. The result was a stew of darkly ominous rituals and "don't tread on me" libertarian philosophy, which we'll explore next.